WSPR #7: Fire Under Me

As I said last time, I really don’t want to *only* be writing about my struggles with productivity in this wlog, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think it’s kind of boring just whinging about my problems post after post. But also because there’s lots more to write about the production of my web serial than that, and it does the whole endeavour a disservice not to get into those topics.

But there is a purpose to the whinging as well: ideally I’d like this to be a sort of time capsule of a time when I was struggling, as can be viewed from a (hopeful) future where I have my personal productivity much more figured out. I like to imagine what would have been helpful and meaningful for me to have read when I was starting out; certainly seeing the behind-the-curtain of the early days of various creators’ struggles with creating good work can be a source of relief to those currently trapped in such a struggle.

That’s what I like to think, anyway. This wlog is also supposed to be a sort of history of authorship for me as well, since my memory can be pretty poor. Something to look back on. A record of my journey.

Anyway that’s a long aside to say this post *will* be about productivity, but the next one ought not to be (since there’s plenty else I want to talk about). I should also say, if you’re reading this and you’re interested in my productivity journey in general, I have a podcast called The Skyward Spiral devoted to exactly that topic. Find it on any podcast directory or app.

Recently, due to a confluence of scheduled vacation, podcast production, and a certain degree of progress with my writing work, I set myself a deadline to finish what is now Book Zero of Breaking Hell. It’s Book Zero, because I split Book One into two, which is becoming something of a signature move of mine since I did the same split to my scifi novel in the works some time ago. The split actually works really well, and solved my issues with pacing, length, and cutting scenes I was aching over before – now nothing needs to be cut, inside the larger framework of two books.

I’m bad with deadlines I set myself and I know that. I’m too soft on myself, ready to forgive lapses, and forget schedules. I don’t have the drill sergeant inner voice that can really hold myself to account. However, another truth about me is I really don’t like to let people down – I’d rather promise nothing than not come through on my word. This deadline I’ve set, being a convergence of a few different factors, has ended up tied to other people’s expectations and timelines. Which means I suddenly take it very seriously.

The phrase I have been turning over in relation to this is the idea of “lighting a fire under me”, and it really does feel like that. Like my feet are on hot sand, I can’t stand still. And so far (a couple of days in) it’s working. I’ve been my most productive on Breaking Hell in months, and I’m feeling quietly confident about hitting the deadline, and writing quality work along the way.

So deadlines *do* work for me, I just need to calibrate them right. This is something I’m going to have to keep thinking about in the future. The typical pattern for a web serial is regular, scheduled uploads, and for a few reasons I decided against that early on. However, I think I will need to have some accountability to making regular progress as I actually gain a reader base and as there are expectations on the story and its production. Hold my feet to the fire, as it were.

I do not want to let anyone down, and I’ll try my best not to, as nervous as I am about meeting those expectations. We’ll see in future posts if I’m able to find a strategy that works for me and the reader effectively. Right now, I’m feeling optimistic.

As I said above, this is another rambly, indulgent, productivity post, but I’m hopeful it might be meaningful one day to at least someone out there – someone who’s in a similar situation perhaps, or just wants to see where and how creators started on long projects (Breaking Hell will be a very long project if I see it through). But it will be the last such post for a while I think. Next time I’ll write about writing, of which there’s plenty to talk about.

so long for now

WSPR #6: Getting in Gear

Alas, it’s been two months since I last posted a progress report. Not only that but there is scant little progress to report. I should make a habit of writing these anyway, to keep me accountable in some way, or at least keep a record of what I was working on and when.

It’s been a very dry month for writing and I don’t exactly know why. It’s very easy to blame the virus, as usual – it’s had a dominant effect on everything: my writing life, my social life, my health. But still, there’s also something internal that isn’t locking into place, something that hasn’t clicked for at least a little while.

There’s nothing to do for now but keep hacking and hope it gets better. I’m juggling a couple of fiction projects at the moment, and they’re honestly really fun worlds and stories to spend time with. Sometimes I suspect I need to take a step back and remind myself how much enjoyment I get out of spending time with these characters and these plots and settings, and treat it less like work and more like a good time.

Hopefully the next time I get around to writing one of these, I’ll have some more substantial progress to report. I’ll keep trying to try harder. If nothing else, I want this wlog to be something more than a litany of underachievement, and really get into the nuts and bolts of how I’m writing rather than when.

so long for now

WSPR #5: Planned Pandaemonium

I’m planning out some extended action scenes at the moment, and I’m having so much fun doing it. Laying out an action sequence feels a bit like carefully diverting water flows to maximise their velocity and volume. Small streams and currents can be folded into each other, tributaries grafted onto rivers, all growing in weight and water and crashing onwards, seawards – an elemental juggernaut, ocean-bound.

Each action scene is a dance, and must be choreographed accordingly. This is especially the case in the shonen battle genre that Breaking Hell fits into. It’s all physicality and physics: bodies and blades and blunt force weapons weaving patterns as they collide and evade.

And concatenating these scenes is akin to a conductor pulling a sequence of sound out of an orchestra. Well, a conductor who is also a composer. The aim is to create energy and sustain it, direct it and increase it. And make sure the tuba doesn’t parp at an ill-timed, deflating moment.

Anyway, all that is to say it brings me real joy, writing fights and balletics. Breaking Hell is unashamedly pulpy, in both its inspirations and its aspirations, but it stems from a real love of classic shonen fare that has stayed with me since I was a young teen. There is a peculiar romance to a fist on fire punching its way through a storm. I really want to capture that, and everything I love about spectacular fantasy theatrics, in Breaking Hell. I hope at least some of that comes across in the telling.

so long for now

WSPR #4: Where Have I Been?

First of all, I should say, it’s not like I didn’t think about writing another WSPR in these last 9 months. I did think about it, many times, but my progress with writing had been so piecemeal and sporadic throughout 2020 that I was never sufficiently motivated to update this wlog.

And that falls on me: motivation isn’t something you just get, it’s something you make and maintain. To a certain degree I can blame the pandemic for my unproductive year. But it’s also been true that there was nothing essentially stopping me from writing, it being a personal, simple, stay-at-home activity.

I’ve struggled with productivity for many years now, and have set myself a sort of Grail Quest to find a solution to my productivity woes. In fact, I made a whole podcast in 2020 about starting that search called The Skyward Spiral. And while I’ve made progress through introspection and analysis, looking at how I work and trying to find ways to work more, and harder, and more efficiently, ultimately it’s a nut I haven’t yet cracked. I always find myself falling off the working wagon, for days or even weeks at a time. And as anyone who falls off a wagon can tell you, when you pick up the pieces again, you’re not back where you started, but quite some way behind.

Right now, there’s no real audience for anything I make, and I take advantage of that somewhat. There are no eyes on me, no expectations for my work, no exterior timescales or deadlines. To some extent I am resting and relaxing in obscurity. Obscurity is comfortable, and easy: it demands nothing. Of course, that’s not what I want for myself, ultimately. I don’t want or need to be a household name, but I want my work to be read and appreciated, and for my readers to want and expect more. A worry of mine is that this is a relationship I’m not quite ready to fulfil.

2020 was a year full of frustration, with the state of the world, but more than that with the state of myself. As of writing this I’m one month into 2021, and have finally managed to raise my productivity game a bit, pushing myself to write every day, at least a little. And, slowly, I believe it is working. With enough elbow grease and oil, the rusted gear moves. But I am still nowhere near the kind of pace and efficiency I would like to be creatively. Time will tell if my grail lies within reach.

When I decided to start this wlog, my idea was not that people would care to read it straight away, but rather, that once my various writing projects have met with any success, these reports would work as a kind of time capsule for where I was before, and how I got to where I went. I feel I have gained a lot from other authors and creatives describing their process and journey, so I wanted to do the same. Well, I shall try and start this up again, as a semi-frequent thing. Long story short: 2020 knocked the wind out of my sails, but in 2021 my ship is sailing once again.

I don’t want to write too many of these indulgent, introspective posts. Next time I’ll talk about the writing, and try and stay on topic.

so long for now

WSPR #3: Motivations

So… coronavirus…

I intended to keep this blog going with weekly updates, but all my plans were halted in their tracks. Of course, I blame the virus.

Although perhaps I shouldn’t overdo this blame: I’ve certainly had enough time to keep writing and keep writing about writing while I’ve been stuck in the house. Still, there’s a level of anxiety and uncertainty that kept me unsettled for several weeks, as lockdown measures increased and I had to figure out what this new world of social distancing and self isolation entailed for me.

Sadly, it took the wind out of my sails a bit, writing-wise, and I’ve only recently been getting back into the swing of things. It didn’t help that I hit a particularly thorny chapter, where I’d been umm-ing and ahh-ing over how exactly to present things for some time already.

Underlying this thorniness was a problem of motivation. Not mine, but my protagonist’s. Breaking Hell is a shounen story at it’s heart, and shounen protagonists typically have simple and direct motivations. “I want to be the King of the Pirates!” or “- the Hokage!” or “- the Wizard King”; or “I want to save my friends!” or “- the girl!” or “- the World!”

Breaking Hell grew in the telling, so I didn’t start off with a simple shounen motivation for the main character. In fact, he started out with an entirely different characterisation which perhaps I’ll write about more another time.

Characterisation is a subtle art, and I’ve been trying to straddle the line between on-the-nose declarations and muddy motivation. It’s important to know what a character wants and how they are making decisions. And, in shounen especially, an ardent and determined spirit is an essential part of a winning main character.

A few conversations with friends helped clear up some of the issues I was subconsciously vacillating over, and I think I now have a good idea how to proceed.

I’m really excited to get past these chapters which, though not boring per se, are really an extended set up for the more action-y and fun chapters to come. In particular, there’s one character I can’t wait to introduce; I almost wish I could jump ahead to his chapters right away.

But, of course, all the bricks of a house are needed to keep it standing up. Brick by brick, I’ll get there.

Outside of writing, I’ve been having some success developing ideas for the second story arc of Breaking Hell. I don’t want to jump ahead and ruin anything – I want to keep this blog roughly contemporaneous with chapter releases – but I’ll just say it involves a game.

so long for now

WSPR #2: Breaking Bottlenecks

One of my biggest goals for 2020 is to learn to write faster.

I’ve been working on a core group of writing projects for about three years now. While I think I’ve learnt a lot about writing in that time (and hopefully improved my own writing accordingly), there are some elements of my writing process that are below the level I want them to be. First among these is my pace. I am, I believe, quite a slow writer, and I am slow on a few different levels.

Firstly, I have tended to develop my projects (the worlds, the characters, the plots) over long periods of time, and it takes a little while before they take any kind of definite shape. I would liken this to a kind of sedimentation, or the way an oyster forms a pearl. A writer is a sculptor who also makes the marble, and sometimes I am waiting for enough raw material to begin to work on a project.

Secondly, despite writing often, I yet to develop a consistent daily writing habit, and so my average output is brought down by dry spells, and periods of little to no production. Part of this is not making the time to write, and part of it is sitting down to write, but not pushing myself hard enough to hit a certain target, or finish a certain scene. I suspect I wait for inspiration too much, and so need to learn to push myself harder even when I am uninspired.

Thirdly, I have a confused and inconsistent approach to the editing and redrafting stages, which has made it unclear to me what I should be working on, for how long, and in what order. I’ve been mostly winging it, editing-wise, with very mixed results.

Finally, I am not a fast typer: my typing speed is slow to average, and my accuracy could be improved (which is to say, the backspace key is my most used key by quite some margin).

Writing fiction is a process of several discrete steps, and the efficient execution of each one is its own skill. A fast typist may not be good at developing ideas, and an efficient outliner may have difficulty fleshing out that outline into a full draft.

Each of these processes require time, and each can be a bottleneck for producing finished prose. The goal of becoming a faster writer reduces to trying to break these bottlenecks in the path between the first seed of an idea, and a finished piece of fiction.

So, how best can I tackle my own bottlenecks?

I can’t really control for the pace of my idea production and gestation, nor do I really want to: I’m quite happy with the way I generate and develop ideas. I don’t consider it that much of a bottleneck either, since I can work on ideas concurrently with doing other things, or working on other projects. Longer term, managing this bottleneck will consist of choosing the right project at the right time, and letting the others gestate in the background.

The second bottleneck suggests its own solution. I am going to work hard to develop a daily writing habit so that I keep my practice up and don’t need time to de-rust. Writing prompts have always been useful as an exercise that is a break from my main projects. I’m a big fan of these kinds of small exercises in learning anything (music, languages, drawing), as it builds creative muscle in a natural way. Recently I’ve been commentating over timelapses of my prompts on my youtube channel, which you can find here.

The third problem has led me to consider my editing and drafting processes, and to try to carefully systematise them. The end goal here is a clear and definite system that I can work through step by step to produce finished drafts. I’ll talk more about this as I develop it in future posts.

The final problem can be solved by increasing my typing speed, to which end I have started practising touch typing and learning to type faster and more accurately. This is the most practical of the problems to solve, and I’ve enjoyed seeing immediate results as I’ve become faster through consistent practice.

I would like to be putting out Breaking Hell at an average pace of a chapter a week. And, ideally, I would like to push that up to two or three chapters a week. I would like to have uploaded two books worth or more by the end of 2020, and I’m quietly confident I can meet that target (averaging about 333 words a day). Isolating ways I can be a more efficient writer and overcoming these bottlenecks is pretty important in meeting that goal.

Next time, I’ll be writing about my new workflow for producing Breaking Hell, and how I’ve learnt from previous serialisation attempts.

so long for now

Web Serial Progress Report #1: A New Beginning

Welcome to the first of what I would like to be a weekly post about the behind-the-scenes of my web serial Breaking Hell. It’s the 1st of February 2020, and I’m pleased to say the web serial is finally ready to go again, ready to relaunch, after several years sitting dormant, waiting for me to get it up to speed.

I started Breaking Hell four years ago at this point (wow), and initially it was supposed to be a simple sort of project I could dash out in a few spare minutes weekly. The plan was to make things up as I went along, a wacky fantasy adventure, pulling together some old ideas I had along with a punky action sensibility. Unfortunately, the tale, as they say, grew in the telling.

While developing the world of Breaking Hell, I discovered I had become partial to it than I had intended to be, and suddenly this throwaway piece of nonsense action figure had become something I deeply cared about, something I fretted over, something I wanted to get right. It became an idea (or set of ideas) I felt I had to do justice to, or else I would be wasting its potential.

Granted, it is still a wacky, punky, fantasy adventure at its core. But I hope it will become clear over time that I’ve put a lot of care into this world, its story, and its construction.

For now, I’m going to focus on getting my writing and uploading speed up to a fair clip, so that people can start reading the serial regularly and get invested in it.

Breaking Hell has come a long way since its inception. I believe I’ve become a better writer in that time to boot. And one, I hope, that can do this story justice.

 

so long for now